IOWA CITY, Iowa - The NCAA started keeping Division I basketball statistics in 1947-48. That was also Murray Wier’s senior year. Iowa’s diminutive guard-forward entered the season known as an unorthodox but effective and highly entertaining offensive player. Weir led the nation in scoring that season at 21 points a game, set school and Big Ten records for points in a season and was Iowa’s first consensus all-American.
Seventy-three seasons later, another consensus all-American is in position to join Wier as the nation’s top scorer.
Hawkeye senior center Luka Garza is averaging a nation’s-best 26.9 points a game heading into Friday’s game at Illinois. That’s four points a game better than the No. 2 scorer, Isiaih Mosley of Missouri State.
Garza downplays his shot at history.
“It would be an accomplishment, but it’s not really what I go into the game focusing on,” Garza said. “I think in the future that’s something I’m going to look back on and be proud of. But right now, I came back to this team and this university to win. That’s my main focus. But it would definitely be a special accomplishment.”
Garza’s coach, Fran McCaffery, thinks there’s value in having the nation’s leading scorer in his program.
“I think there’s always value when you have somebody like Luka,” McCaffery said. “He’s a guy that, when people get to know him, they just appreciate who he is as much as what he does. He’s been a great leader.. A phenomenal teammate. One of the most consistent players I’ve ever been associated with. So there’s definitely value to people saying, “Hey, look at this young man and what he represents and how hard he works and what he’s accomplished.’ It says a lot about him. But ultimately it says a lot about the program.”
You can count on one hand the number of Iowa players to finish a season in the Top 10 nationally in scoring.
Center Chuck Darling, Iowa’s other consensus all-American, finished fourth in 1951-52 at 25.5 points a game. He trailed an impressive threesome of Clyde Lovellette of Kansas, Dick Groat of Duke and Bob Pettit of LSU.
Guard Fred Brown was 10th in 1970-71 with his 27.6-point average. And Garza was fifth last season at 23.9 points a game.
John Johnson, whose 27.9-point average in 1969-70 is a program best, didn’t even land in the Top 10. That was the season that Pete Maravich of LSU led the country in scoring at 44.5 points a game. Austin Carr of Notre Dame was second, at 38.1, and Rick Mount of Purdue third at 35.4. There were seven players who averaged at least 30 points that season. Carr and Johnson did meet, in the final game of Johnson’s Iowa career. The Hawkeyes faced Notre Dame in a consolation game of the 1970 NCAA Tournament. Iowa scored 75 points in the first half and won, 121-106. Carr had 45 points, on 39 shot attempts. Johnson finished with 31, matching his number of shot attempts.
Mount averaged 57 points in two games against Johnson in 1969-70. He scored 53 points in Iowa’s 94-88 victory in Iowa City, then had 61 in the Hawkeyes’ 108-107 triumph in West Lafayette. The 61 points remains a Big Ten record. The 53 points is tied for fifth all time.
Johnson averaged 27 points in those two victories during that 14-0 league season. While Mount was scorching the Mackey Arena nets with 61 (on 47 field-goal attempts), Johnson was
one of four Iowa players scoring at least 20 - Chad Calabria added 25, Brown 23 and Glenn Vidnovic 20.
Wier, who grew up in Grandview but transferred to Muscatine High School for his senior season before coming to Iowa, had a flair to his game. Standing just 5 feet 8 inches tall, Weir took shots usually reserved for a game of H-O-R-S-E. He became the master of off-balance shots. Maybe the best way to describe Wier’s style of play comes from Bert McGrane of the Des Moines Register. Games, of course, weren’t on television then. And newspaper game stories were often filled with descriptive phrases and hyperbole.
Wrote McGrane, “Iowa’s Murray Wier shot his way out of a series of twists, spins and basketball barrel-rolls here Saturday night to lead the unconquered Hawks to a 60-49 victory over Purdue. The little redhead fairly melted the rims as he darted and fired his deadly barrage, filling the hoops with 10 field goals and seven free throws for a 27-point total.”
During that 1947-48 season, reporters described Wier as “the Muscatine redhead,” the “redheaded vet from Musky,” the “Muscatine Mite,” the “Muscatine flash” and “Iowa’s rampaging redhead.”
Wier, who passed away in 2016 at 89 years of age, launched many shots that would have come from behind today’s 3-point line. He told once told Buck Turnbull of the Des Moines Register, “The guys used to kid me that they’d pass me the ball and wouldn’t get it back. If we’d had a 3-point shot, I might never have passed the ball.”
Wier got plenty of shots up. He took 429 of them his senior season, 277 more than anyone else on the team. He averaged 22.6 shots per game, and shot 35.4 percent from the field. Wier scored a career-high 34 points against Illinois before a record crowd of 16,048 at Iowa Fieldhouse, making 15 of 33 shots from the field. He averaged 30.4 shot attempts over the final five games of his career, and averaged 25.4 points a game.
That late flurry enabled him to pass Tony Lavelli of Yale for the national scoring title. Lavelli averaged 20.5 points a game. Lavelli would go on to lead the country the following season, averaging 22.4 points.
Wier scored at least 20 points in 12 of the 19 games that season, and reached the 30-point plateau twice. He took more than 20 shots in nine different games. Garza has taken at least 20 shots a total of 10 times his entire Iowa career.
Of all the memorable games Wier played that senior year, one that stands out is a 61-52 victory against Indiana. Wier had three field goals and four fouls in the first 12 minutes of play. He shelved his relentless play for a more conservative approach. He never fouled out and scored 26 points. That conservative play came on the defensive end of the floor. “When he got that ball within shooting range he was the same old devastating gunner with the deadly eye,” McGrane wrote.